Dr Charles Cockell
Professor of Astrobiology, University of Edinburgh

Dr Cockell is the Director of the UK Centre for Astrobiology. His lab is interested in life in extreme environments. The particular interest is in the interactions of microbes with minerals and the function and diversity of microbes in rocky environments. The lab applies this work to diverse areas in astrobiology and earth sciences.


His research group is interested in Astrobiology. As a discipline, it seeks to understand the origin, evolution and distribution of life in the Universe. In particular, we are interested in life in extreme environments and understanding the diversity, processes and biosignatures of life in extremes. 


Projects include studies of microorganisms and their elemental cycling in dark, deep hypersaline environments using the Boulby International Subsurface Astrobiology Laboratory (BISAL), a fully equipped microbiology laboratory we have set up at 1km depth in the Boulby mine. They are also investigating the habitability of Martian environments, looking at microbial access to ancient carbon and we have experiments studying the growth and behaviour of organisms in space using the International Space Station. We apply this work to understanding the earth system better and contributing to the robotic and human exploration of space.


Their work is conducted within the UK Centre for Astrobiology, a virtual astrobiology centre we established in 2011 that is affiliated with the NASA Astrobiology Institute (www.astrobiology.ac.uk). 


Dr Cockell currently teaches the pre-honours Astrobiology course (PHYS08051) and the second year Properties of Matter course (PHYS08046). He oversees (and teach on) the SUPA Astrobiology and Search for Life course (SUPAASL) and he teaches and runs a Massive Open On-Line Learning (MOOC) introductory course on Astrobiology (https://www.coursera.org/course/astrobio).


Assuming that life on other planets with an ocean may be located around vent sites providing the basic energy for life, we must first locate the vent sites themselves. I will discuss how we do that here on earth and how technology is rapidly evolving to aid in that and how we can utilize this for exploring the ocean on Europa and other exo-planets. I will use the examples of the vent sites I found in the Antarctic and the Caribbean and how advances in the 3 years between the discoveries made the task a lot easier.